Dietary dynamics drive obesity

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The human body prioritizes protein intake over other food components, which leads to increased food consumption when protein is diluted in the diet. A research paper from the Royal Society highlights the “protein influence” as an important factor in the rise in obesity, particularly with the prevalence of processed foods high in fats and carbohydrates.

Growing evidence supporting the protein leverage hypothesis

The “protein leverage” hypothesis suggests that humans consume more food when dietary protein is diluted, especially with modern processed diets. This behavior is increasingly seen as a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Integrated research is vital to effective interventions.

Humans, like many others classify, regulates protein intake more strongly than any other food component, therefore if protein is diluted there is a compensatory increase in food intake. The hypothesis proposes that the dilution of protein in modern diets by processed foods high in fat and carbohydrates leads to an increase in energy expenditure as the body seeks to satisfy its natural protein drive – taking in unnecessary calories in order to do so.

Research support from the Royal Society

This paper, resulting from a Royal Society discussion meeting held in London last October, demonstrates that observational, experimental and mechanistic research is increasingly supporting a protein effect as an important mechanism leading to obesity.

The authors describe published studies covering the mechanisms of protein appetite to show how the protein effect effect interacts with industrially manufactured food environments and with changes in protein requirements over the course of life to increase the risk of obesity.

For example, protein requirements change at certain stages of life (eg, transition to menopause), as well as the combined effect with changes in activity levels or energy expenditure (eg, retired athletes or young adults moving toward more sedentary lifestyles). Because the data indicate that children and adolescents also show increased protein intake, the authors discuss the potential impact of exposure to a high-protein diet in preconception or early life (eg through certain infant foods) in potentially creating increased protein requirements. protein and increased susceptibility. To reduce protein and processed diets in later years.

Addressing the obesity epidemic

With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring obesity the greatest health threat facing humanity, the authors argue that there should be a focus on integrative approaches that examine how different contributors to obesity interact, rather than viewing them as competing explanations. This will also help researchers and policy makers understand how to move the field forward and which reasons may be most relevant to addressing the growing obesity epidemic.

The authors conclude: “…only by placing specific nutrients and biological agents within their broader context can we hope to identify sustainable points of intervention to slow and reverse the incidence of obesity and its associated complications.”

Reference: “Appetite for protein as a supplement in an obese diet: the protein utilization hypothesis” September 3, 2023, Available here. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for Biological Sciences.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0212.R2

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